There’s nothing like a dominating win to take people’s minds off the coach’s job security. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers shrugged off all the negative vibes swirling around Vinny Del Negro and concentrated on their business.
Griffin had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Paul added 19 points and 13 assists, and the Clippers ended their first three-game losing streak of the season with a 101-85 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
”Somebody kind of told me what was being said about him, but we’re all behind him and we’ve got to keep it that way,” Griffin said. ”I don’t know how much we’ve taken from his personality, but he’s an energetic coach and obviously we want to play that way. Sometimes we haven’t, but we just need to keep buying in, and everybody needs to believe in each other.”
Del Negro, reported to be in hot water during and immediately following the Clippers’ 0-3 trip, met with general manager Neil Olshey after the team returned home – but would not share details of the conversation.
The only member of Del Negro’s staff with any previous head-coaching experience is Marc Iavaroni, who was 33-90 with Memphis and was replaced midway through the 2008-09 season by current Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.
”All the speculation, all the sources, all that stuff, I don’t spend a lot of time on that. I don’t have time for that,” Del Negro said. ”It’s aggravating, but that’s part of the job. That’s part of the deal. We haven’t been playing well, and I’m the head coach. So that responsibility goes everywhere.
”We need to play better. We lost some games we should have won, and maybe won some games we shouldn’t have. Managing expectations is the hardest thing in this business. And just because you get certain players or you get off to a good start, it doesn’t work like that. You have to put in the time and you have to stay together as a team. If you get everybody pulling in the right direction, it gives you a better chance.”
Randy Foye added 18 points for the Clippers, who are three games behind the Lakers for the Pacific Division lead. They began a stretch of five home games in eight days.
”It was very important to get a win. You almost forget what it feels like after you lose like we’ve been losing,” Paul said. ”Our defense had been horrendous for a few games, just giving up everything – 3s, layups, free throws – but today we put it altogether. Everybody was really together when we came out there. We have a five-game homestand now, and we need every win we can possibly get right now.”
Zach Randolph had 14 points and eight rebounds for the Grizzlies, who have lost six of eight after an 11-2 stretch. Point guard Mike Conley had nine points and nine assists during a foul-plagued 22 minutes.
”The Clippers needed a win just as bad as we did. They played with a sense of urgency and they scrapped for everything,” Conley said. ”They wanted it more than we did, and there’s no excuses for that.”
Rudy Gay helped Memphis rally in the third quarter, making a 3-pointer to trim the Clippers’ lead to 10 at 61-51. But that was as close as the Grizzlies got. The Clippers responded with a 16-4 run, highlighted by Randy Foye’s pair of 3-pointers 43 seconds apart, increasing the margin to 22 at 77-55 with 3:13 left in the quarter.
”This win was big for us,” center DeAndre Jordan said. ”Our season’s up and down with so many games and bodies are drained. We try, but some nights you’re not going to have it and you’re not going to click offensively or defensively. But today we came out with that defensive intensity, and it kind of had an effect on them the whole game.”
Former Southern California star O.J. Mayo was called for a flagrant 1 foul on Griffin as he drove the lane to get a bounce pass from Paul with 48.3 seconds left in the third and the Clippers leading 79-60. Griffin missed both free throws, but it hardly mattered at that point, and Del Negro rested him and Paul during the final 8 minutes.
p> ”It’s always fun when you win, especially in that manner,” Griffin said. ”There are some things we need to keep working on and improving on, but that was a lot better game. Our team defense was better. Guys were rotating in the low post, we got max-side help, we got steals, loose balls and deflections. Those are the kind of things we have to have.”
Griffin, Paul and Caron Butler all scored in double figures in the first half to help Los Angeles build a 56-42 lead. Bobby Simmons, who was re-signed by the Clippers on Saturday – six days after his second 10-day contract with the club expired – beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer that capped a 12-0 run and made it 33-17.
”It’s very disturbing because we don’t have a rhythm,” Hollins said. ”We can’t come out and score 17 points in the first quarter. We have to do a better job with our bench play and with our starters. Everybody needs to do a better job of guarding their own man.”
Notes: Clippers reserve point guard Mo Williams missed the game because of a sprained big toe on his left foot. … Griffin, who was 8 for 12 on free throws, is still shooting a measly 60.9 percent from the line in 130 NBA games. … After this homestand, the Clippers will play nine of their final 14 regular-season games on the road. … The Clippers have beaten Memphis four straight times. … Paul has at least one steal in 52 consecutive games, the league’s longest active streak.